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After G-d told Noah to build the ark and bring in the animals two by two:
Noah did everything that G-d commanded him (6:27)… Noah did as G-d commanded him (7:5).
And when the ark docked on the land that eventually dried out, Noah waited in the ark until invited by G-d to leave it. And in response he duly obeyed:
Noah… came out of the ark (8:18-19).
Only afterwards did he take the lead. He did something that he was not instructed to do, but he felt was the right thing to do. He expressed his gratitude for being saved. Indeed, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that came after him:
Noah built an altar for G-d… he offered burnt offering on the altar (6:20).
Up until now, Noah 'walked with G-d' (6:9) - he did what G-d told him. Obedient, yes: 'Noah did exactly as G-d instructed him' (6:22). So far: no more, no less. But on having survived the flood and out of thanks of being saved, he took upon himself to do that major act of worshipping G-d on his own initiative. He took part in starting the Creation anew, as a positive act of rebuilding. In doing so, he was 'walking before G-d', rather than merely 'walking with G-d' (as Abraham would, c.f. 25:40).
And G-d responded positively.
G-d smelt the burnt offerings, saying to Himself: "… I will never again destroy all living things" (6:21).
Yet the story of Noah ends on rather a sour note. The final act shows him having compromised himself by getting drunk from wine made out of his very own grapes in his very own vineyard. As the text recounts:
Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. He drank and became intoxicated, and was naked… Ham, Canaan's father, saw his father's nakedness, and told his two brothers outside (9:20-22).
This rather sad final incident perhaps illustrates Noah's limited maturity in serving G-d. His key was obedience. He did what G-d told him. He even responded with a thank you. But unlike the Patriarchs, he didn't "get" what G-d really wanted from him. G-d wanted more than mere observance, mere keeping of "mitzvot" which in his case were the commands above and the several general rules for human behavior in some cases hinted at and in others outlined in 9:1. He wanted Noah to enter into the spirit of G-d's ideals, by showing basic self-respect as due to a person created in the image of G-d. In short, general derech eretz, good manners, which is the product of consideration and common sense. Derech eretz by its very nature does not lend itself to the framework of commands and rules, but human sensitivity - which on this occasion Noah failed to develop. Failing to do that could render behavior such as being getting drunk as naval birshut ha-Torah' - a degenerate, debased without actually breaking any law.
This is an important message to us. Torah observance is built on the stratum and pre-requisite of common decency.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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